In the summer of 1887, the Mount Desert Reading Room became America’s foremost summer social scene. Designed by renowned Boston architect William Ralph Emerson, the building sat on Birch Point with unobstructed views of Frenchman Bay.

The great men of the age, including members of the Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, and Morgan families, gathered in their club’s new location. Members met to discuss the latest in literature, science, and business. Gatherings built relationships and forged ideas that would further the Industrial Revolution. The club’s barmen referenced the Jerry Thomas 1887 Bartenders Guide* for the newest versions of Juleps, Smashes, Cobblers, Slings, Sours, and Flips.

In the early 1920s, despite the recent membership of women, a newly established restaurant, and beautiful views, the club struggled to sustain itself. The post-WWI economy and the constraints of prohibition forced the club to sell the building to the Maine Central Railroad. From 1923 until World War II, a variety of owners failed to reestablish the clientele and ambiance of the original endeavor. Then, during WWII, the U.S. Navy leased the building as the headquarters for the Northeastern Coastal Observation Group. The units based at the headquarters were responsible for patrolling the coast in search of German naval boats and submarines. Naval operations in the area were suspended after the war and the Reading Room was once again an empty building.

After the Great Fire of 1947 ravaged Bar Harbor, the building was placed into service again. The American Red Cross took up residence to feed, clothe, and house the victims of the fire and support the local community.

In 1948, a group of townspeople formed the Bar Harbor Hotel Corporation and purchased the Reading Room and surrounding land. In 1949, new construction added a 40-room wing to the main building. When it opened in 1950, the Hotel Bar Harbor was one of the first hotels to rise from the ashes of the Great Fire. The addition of more rooms and a name change to the Bar Harbor Motor Inn carried the property into the 1980s.

In 1987, hotelier David J. Witham purchased the property and changed its name to the Bar Harbor Inn. Mr. Witham’s vision reestablished the elegance of the past combined with the modern conveniences of the present. Today, the Witham Family continues to operate the Bar Harbor Inn looking to the future while maintaining the connection to its historic past. The Bar Harbor Inn hosts 153 guest rooms, two restaurants and a luxury spa.

During its 132-year history, this iconic building has been a private oasis for the rich and powerful, a military headquarters, a refuge of healing and hope, one of the first hotels to rise from the ashes, and today, one of Maine’s finest oceanfront resorts. Throughout the years, one thing has remained a constant: The Bar Harbor Inn is a gathering place with unrivaled beauty and historic charms.